Lakers stun L-Jacks
Over the course of the regular season, the Detroit Lakes and Bemidji boys' basketball teams split their two-game series in very close fashion. But that knot was broken Saturday inside Halenbeck Hall on the St. Cloud State University campus, as th...
Over the course of the regular season, the Detroit Lakes and Bemidji boys' basketball teams split their two-game series in very close fashion.
But that knot was broken Saturday inside Halenbeck Hall on the St. Cloud State University campus, as the Section 8-3A No. 3 seeded Lakers won the one that really counted, with a 68-65 win over No. 2 Bemidji (21-6) in the semifinal section playoff game.
The win gives DL its first entry into a section/region championship game since 1983, when the Lakers were defeated by St. Cloud Tech.
DL was also defeated by St. Cloud Tech in the 1982 Region 8-2A finals by the score of 52-41.
But now 28 year later, DL returns to Halenbeck Hall vying for a section title and it will also serve as a chance for the Lakers to end quite a state tournament dry spell, with the last time a DL boys' basketball team making it through sections (or regions) since 1918.
"This is a good attribute of how hard the kids have worked," said DL head coach Robb Flint. "It's exciting and a lot of fun for the team to be playing for a section championship."
But the obstacle in front of the Lakers (21-7) is large -- literally.
The top-seeded and Class 3A's No. 4 ranked St. Cloud Apollo will be looming for the Lakers Thursday inside Halenbeck Hall starting at 7 p.m.
The Eagles (24-4) are playing in their fourth consecutive section championship and are hungry, after losing the last three, two on last-second shots by Little Falls.
But the Lakers know how to play the underdog role well, as was apparent against Bemidji after falling down at halftime by nine points 37-28.
"We were put on our heels defensively in the first half, they were dictating how we were playing," Flint said.
But in the second half, the Lakers blazed back after falling down 11, as DL outscored the Lumberjacks by a 40-28 margin.
"We just picked up our intensity defensively and more stops led to more rebounds, which gave us a chance to run the floor," Flint said.
Junior guard Joe Mollberg, who broke out in the second half, credited the defensive effort as the spark to the team's transition game.
"Our defense picked up and that was the shot we needed," Mollberg said.
Bemidji played either a 2-2-1 or 2-3 zone on the Lakers for the majority of the evening, which slowed down DL in the first half.
"We were getting out-rebounded in the first half and that hurt us," said senior post Josh Stalberger, who led DL with 17 points. "We knew if we were going to win this game, we were going to have to start rebounding better."
The Lakers started making their own stops defensively and started picking up their rebounding game, as DL started chipping away on an 11-point second half deficit.
Junior guard Rick Hutchinson nailed two consecutive three pointers to pull his team to within two points.
"Those were some huge shots by Rick," Mollberg added.
That was followed by Mollberg netting a long 18-footer to give DL its first lead since the early minutes of the game.
Bemidji's junior phenom guard Carey Woods added a nice assist to give the Lumberjacks a one-point 65-64 lead with 23 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Lumberjacks tried to throw a wrench in DL's offense by switching to man defense for the first time the entire game, but fortunately for the Lakers, they were prepared.
"We love it when teams man us, we knew what play to run and which one was going to work," said senior point guard Connor Hedstrom.
The call went to Stalberger, who took the pass inside on the baseline, where he made a spin move and rolled the field goal in for the 66-65 advantage with nine seconds left in the game.
"Coach (Flint) saw it and we had play ready and we knew what to do," Stalberger said. "I got a nice entry pass and I guess I went up and the shot went in."
The defense capped the game for the Lakers, as the ball was jarred loose by sophomore guard Kirk McLeod from a driving Woods, as Mollberg came up with the loose ball and was promptly fouled.
"(McLeod) just flashed behind me and got a hand on the ball and I grabbed it," Mollberg said of the series-ending steal. "I remembered back in the day when I was younger winning a free throw contest in Alexandria and I knew I was going to make them both."
The junior guard shot his final two free throws with ice water in his veins, draining both, as Bemidji's final shot with 2.7 seconds left went astray.
Stalberger finished with a team-high 17 points -- after he started the contest hot with 12 early points -- while Mollberg had 15. Hutchinson finished with 10.
"Joe (Mollberg) had a few transition points early on and then he just came up with that big steal at the end," Flint said. "Josh hit the biggest shot late in the game."
Junior post Brian Labat also contributed nine rebounds, which were key against a smaller Bemidji front. Senior post Jon Gilson filled in well the last three minutes of the game, after Labat fouled out.
"Our guys bought into what the coaches were preaching early in the season, and that was defend the ball and run the floor," Flint said. "They are executing well down the stretch and they are playing with a lot of confidence."
It was also a surreal feeling in the locker room for the Lakers, as Stalberger said this group has been waiting a long time to play in a huge contest like they did Saturday.
"After the game, I was just sitting down and I didn't know what to do, I was just smiling," the senior post player said. "It was fun, it definitely was fun."
Game time Thursday will be at 7 p.m. inside Halenbeck Hall.
Section 8-3A semifinals: (2) Bemidji vs. (3) Detroit Lakes at St. Cloud State University, Saturday, March 12.
Lakers 28 40 - 68
Lumberjacks 37 28 - 65
Scoring (2-3-ftm-fta-pts) -- DL: Kirk McLeod 2-0-0-1-4; Joe Mollberg 5-1-2-3-15; Connor McLeod 1-0-1-2-3; Connor Hedstrom 0-2-2-2-8; Rick Hutchinson 2-2-0-0-10; Brian Labat 4-0-1-3-9; Josh Stalberger 8-0-1-2-17. TEAM: 22-5-7-13-68.
Bem: Hengel 1-0-3-3-5; Rude 5-2-0-3-16; Rutledge 4-0-5-8-13; Brown 1-0-0-0-2; Woods 6-2-5-5-23; Vonasek 0-0-1-2-1; Richardson 1-0-0-0-2; Declusin 0-0-1-2-1. TEAM: 18-4-15-25-65.